SHADOW CIRCUS – An exhibition by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam in the framework of Forum Expanded at Berlinale
- 08.02.2019. - 10.03.2019 2019-02-08
Since the Communist Chinese invasion of 1949, Tibet has been a country under occupation. The exhibition SHADOW CIRCUS revisits an overlooked chapter in the recent history of Tibet: the armed struggle for freedom that spontaneously erupted in response to the Chinese aggression, which then became entangled in global geopolitics when the CIA got involved in 1956. Code-named ST Circus, it was one of the CIA’s longest running covert operations until it was abruptly abandoned in the late 1960s.
Filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam researched the subject for many years and made a BBC-commissioned documentary – The Shadow Circus: The CIA in Tibet (1998) – that focused on the CIA’s support and betrayal of the Tibetan freedom fighters. They were inspired by Tenzing’s father, Lhamo Tsering, one of the leaders of the resistance and the key liaison between the Tibetans and the CIA.
SHADOW CIRCUS re-evaluates the audiovisual material that they gathered over the years, and for the first time presents a re-edited version of their documentary, along with photographs, documents, letters, CIA surveillance maps of Tibet, and excerpts from interviews with former CIA agents and guerrilla operatives. The exhibition examines the CIA‘s role in Tibet by strategically moving between the experiential positions of resistance fighters who fought on the ground and provided encrypted intelligence at great risk. By simultaneously making available unprecedented interviews with former CIA officials who were closely involved in the secret operation ST Circus and who chose to speak out beyond the ‘call of duty,’ an aftermath to the veiled spectre of infiltration is revealed.
We ask ourselves, how this archival evidence may speak truth to power by extracting new forms of collective intelligence that are a counterpoint to the extractive condition of surveillance by the world powers. How do we consider this obscured lineage of decolonization in a post-Cold War world rife with nationalist agendas?
RITU SARIN AND TENZING SONAM have been working together since their student days in the San Francisco Bay Area. They lived in London for many years working as independent filmmakers, before returning to India in 1996. They are currently based in Dharamshala and Delhi. A recurring subject in their work is Tibet—forming an intimate engagement at different levels: personally, politically and artistically. Through their films and artistic work, Sarin and Sonam have attempted to document, question and reflect on the questions of exile, identity, culture and nationalism that confront the Tibetan people. Another concern is the transformation and transmutation of societies through globalisation.
They have made several award-winning documentary films and video installations. Their documentary, The Sun Behind the Clouds (2009), won the Vaclav Havel Award at the One World Film Festival in Prague. They also made the Tibetan feature film, Dreaming Lhasa (2005), produced by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Gere, which premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Their video installations have shown at the Contour Biennale 8, Busan Biennale, Mori Art Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (Vienna) and Khoj Studios (Delhi), among other venues. Their most recent work, The Sweet Requiem, is a narrative feature film with a Tibetan cast and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival 2018. Sarin and Sonam are also the directors of the Dharamshala International Film Festival, one of India’s leading independent film festivals, which they founded in 2012.
CURATORS Natasha Ginwala, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung
ASSISTANT CURATOR Krisztina Hunya
CURATORIAL ASSISTANCE Beya Othmani, Abhishek Nilamber, Mila Samdub
MANAGEMENT Lema Sikod, Lynhan Balatbat-Helbock
PRODUCTION Ola Zielińska
COMMUNICATION Anna Jäger, Marleen Boschen
GRAPHIC DESIGN Elsa Westreicher, Lili Somogyi
TECH Bert Günther, Emilio Cordero
ART HANDLING Wilson Mungai, Kimani Joseph
The exhibition is presented within the program of the 14th Forum Expanded | 69th Berlinale. SHADOW CIRCUS is a coproduction of Arsenal–Institute for Film and Video Art in the framework of the longterm project The New Alphabet at Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
SHADOW CIRCUS is funded by the Hauptstadtkulturfonds Berlin, Goethe Institut New Delhi, the Foundation for Arts Initiatives and the Rowell Fund for Tibet.